The simple cardboard box has been the inspiration for countless hours of play since the 1800s. A rightful-member of the Toy Hall of Fame, cardboard boxes are a tool for make-believe and sport, with countless uses. As the last of six children, I can’t tell you the hours I spent playing in and with boxes. Often, after presents were opened on Christmas, there was more joy to be found in the boxes themselves, than the toys that they held — much to the chagrin on Santa.
Cut up and flattened, a box became a slick sled for a grassy hill down the street. A marker turned a box into a car that I would scoot around in for hours on end. A fort or a fox den. A treasure chest. The back-drop for a play or musical being put on in the driveway. Cardboard boxes held so much joy and wonder. And if someone in the neighborhood got a new refrigerator, it was like winning the lottery! A box big enough to make a clubhouse or a puppet theater, or become a skyscraper in a box city we were building under the deck. You want to see pure, unbridled joy? Give a kid a refrigerator box and step aside.
There is a reason that the lowly cardboard box is a perennial favorite toy. As we’ve discussed here before, play is defined as a set of behaviors that are freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated. When a child chooses to play with a cardboard box, it is because they truly want to. They look at it and see the possibilities. It is not empty, but rather full of What Ifs? What if I could fly a rocket to the moon? Or, what if I was lost in the woods and found a cave to live in? It’s also a place just for them, or perhaps a friend. There is no room for adults. There are no rules or limits. The box is the domain of a child’s imagination, which is the cornerstone of play. Left to their own devices, children will make play happen in the most delightful and inspiring ways.
So I say, three cheers for boxes! I wonder where I can find a big enough one to go slide down a hill. It’s been far too long!
See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru
PS: Want to read about more no-tech toys? Check out Sticks and Stones…